John Broomhall talks to composer Jason Graves about scoring Turtle Rock’s multiplayer shooter

Heard About: The music of Evolve

Tell us about Evolve.
Evolve is a co-op first-person shooter that pits four hunters against a monster – and you can play either side. The hunters are specialised in certain areas and the monster has different strengths, along with the ability to eat local wildlife and evolve into a bigger, more powerful foe.

Turtle Rock wanted something different and gave me free reign to experiment. The resulting score is incredibly reactionary and very sound design-oriented, almost to the point where it functions more as sound design and UI effects than traditional music. Actually it’s two scores: you get a completely different musical experience depending on which side you take.

How did you create an original sound?
One of the many benefits of technology is the sheer number of sounds we have at our fingertips. However, that means every composer potentially utilises a lot of the exact same sounds. As with everything I do, I wanted to focus on originality as much as possible, beginning at source.

Most of the score was generated from scratch with either hardware synthesisers or custom recordings of my growing collection of things to pluck, strum, bow and generally abuse – including my 1920s piano soundboard under the studio stairs, which got a lot of attention. There were plenty of strums and swipes on the piano strings, which were used a lot for the monster music.

I was surprised how much tapping and rhythmic scraping with razor blades and large nails made it into the score. It’s in almost every cue and unintentionally became the backbone of the music, a major contribution to the overall sound. I also did a lot of ‘found sound’ recording, especially for the monster cues, including sheets of foil wrapped around the strings of my contrabass. Even a spare birdcage was put to good use.

Another major contribution came in the form of my constantly growing guitar setup. I literally ran something from every cue through them. I had no shortage of original sounds to choose from once they made their way through the 20-plus guitar pedals.

Hopefully the result of all these musical experiments is something that feels futuristic and organic at the same time. I’d describe it as groove-based ambient music with experimental effects.

How is music delivered interactively? How is it structured and delivered?
Stingers, lots of stingers. Anything from short, five-second notifications to 30-second pieces that slowly fade out. For example, in ‘Nest Mode’, there’s a longer, groove-based bed that plays in the background while shorter, more harmonic stingers are triggered by the gameplay on a fairly frequent basis.

There are four hunters, so something is happening pretty much every five seconds or so. I made six variations for most of the stinger classes. Each objective has at least four or five classes plus variations of intro, outro, win and lose stingers, so the number of files adds up quickly.

What are your thoughts on music for multiplayer generally?
In my experience, multiplayer is often musically relegated to simply menus or repurposed music from the single-player campaign. I think I’ve specifically written for multiplayer once, so custom scoring not just one but two different perspectives of a multiplayer campaign is definitely a new twist.

There’s more than two hours of music, which is on par with a single-player campaign – so the player gets the emotional connection of a single-player shooter combined with the fun and teamwork of a co-op game.

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